Sex and Porn

"Officer and Laughing Girl," Vermeer, 1655-1660

“Officer and Laughing Girl,” Vermeer, 1655-1660

Sex and Porn

O boy! A hot topic! I bet I get a hundred million followers!

Some years ago, a friend of mine, a well-known feminist writer, discovered that her psychiatrist husband was being unfaithful to her. Worse, his infidelity was being offered as a purported “treatment” to a woman patient named (shall we say) Janet. Janet was also the name of his wife, my friend. Worse yet, his unprofessional activity with his patient included persuading her to yell “Kill Janet!” at peak moments of their … uh … interaction. Worser and worser, these sessions were – not clear for whose benefit — tape recorded!

Having somehow got hold of these tapes, the wife was proceeding to the divorce court. Understandably traumatized, she called to ask me if I would be willing to come downtown to her apartment and listen to the tapes with her. It would give her support if I listened with her to what was surely one of the worst moments in a woman’s life.

“Janet,” I joked. “I can’t. I might get hooked.”

I’ve always regretted making a joke of it, but never regretted my refusal to listen to the “Kill Janet!” tapes.

Not long ago I read a thick book titled Under the Inquisition. It purports to be the record, based on tapes, of a past life regression. The taped voice belongs to a woman who seemingly recalled a life in the 1580’s, when she was arrested on suspicion of heresy and brought before the Inquisition in the Spanish town of Cuenca. The woman is still obsessed by her illicit love affair with her Inquisitor four hundred years ago.

The woman’s psychotherapist, who did the taping and converted the recording into a coherent narrative, spent three years tracking down the tapes’ very specific references to events, persons and places from that era. They all checked out, with sources given in endnotes at the back of the book. Sometimes they were verified in obscure libraries, in books with uncut pages in languages unfamiliar to her patient. At times, when historians disputed her patient’s claims, more painstaking research refuted the historians.

Bracketing the question of whether this is a genuine past life memory or information received telepathically, I read the book out of curiosity about the details of a distant era humanized and brought back to life. The Spanish Inquisition was an important event in the history of the world. What was it like? Also, I like romantic stories.

To my annoyance, the purported memories included novelized scenes that can only count as soft porn. I began skipping pages to see how it would end, meanwhile feeling betrayed by the psychotherapist-writer. Her patient had an obsession with that life and that love. If her therapist was reveling in the obsession, how could she help her patient get free of it?

As for me, thanks doc,

but I don’t wanna get hooked either!

The August 18th issue of the New York Review of Books included a pair of reviews by Zoe Heller of two recent nonfiction books on contemporary life grouped under the heading, “’Hot’ Sex and Young Girls.”

Based on hundreds of interviews, the two books tell a similar story: girls are afraid of seeming prudish or uptight. To avoid that reputation, they give in to sexual demands that young men are borrowing from the now-widely-available domain of pornography.

As you can imagine, the reviewer could only express the most muted reservations about this new normal. She could hardly lament it and still keep her up-to-the-minute credentials. Nobody wants to be styled “uptight.” Unlike the girls interviewed, she didn’t fear to forfeit dates with young men, but her agent (if she has one) could drop her. Editors might not call. There are many styles of enforcement. Nobody wants to be a wallflower.

“Dear Abbie” was launched a few years back because I knew – having known some women who had it – that 

there is an art to being a woman.

I was keenly aware that nobody is teaching it. You can be successful at everything else and fail at being a woman. You can succeed at “Woman 101,” fail at everything else, and still die happy.

What do all the stories told in today’s column have in common? If you are a trendy, with-it person, you might want to say:

  • being uninhibited, doin’ what comes naturally, shaking off the shackles of the past.

If you are a traditionalist, you might want to say:

  • the decline and fall of civilization.

Wrong. You are both wrong. All the people cited here — the psychiatrist husband, the past life therapist, the young women and men interviewed about contemporary mores, the authors and reviewer of the two recent books on the new normal — are applying theories about humankind. They are all, all, as theory-driven as a grammarian diagramming a sentence.

Theory-driven? What’s the theory?

We see it first with in the 19th century, in German Romantics like Schopenhauer. Everything unconsciously expresses the will-to-live. This view acquires more dark precision with Nietzsche’s doctrine of a generic will-to-power governing all of us unconsciously. It gets grafted onto Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Freud, superb rhetorician, makes it all sound like settled science.

It’s one highly abstract theory of human nature and human motivation. It takes a selective approach to the relevant evidence, using the data that seems supportive, rejecting other data. It says: what we all seek is just to survive and reproduce. In this, we are like any other animal. Pleasure is a prime motivator with us because it serves that end. We think that ours are personal aims, but they are really the aims of the species, which uses our pleasure to serve its objectives. Civilization inhibits these natural aims. So they get repressed into the unconscious. The natural human being is in touch with the primal aims and is therefore uninhibited.

If you think Freud’s theory is settled science, validated by well-regarded recent studies, please read my article, “Getting Past Marx and Freud.” Click on “Abigail’s Articles” from the menu up top.

If you think any woman I ever knew, who had the art of being a woman, was ruled by these theories, think again.

The wise woman will seek to attain this art. Her life will be interesting, possibly difficult – possibly tragic even –

but it will be her own.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, soon to appear in a revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
This entry was posted in Academe, Action, Alienation, Art, Autonomy, Chivalry, Class, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Cool, Courtship, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Ethics, Evil, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, Guilt and Innocence, Health, History, history of ideas, ID, Identity, Ideology, Idolatry, Immorality, Institutional Power, Literature, Love, Male Power, Masculinity, master, Mind Control, nineteenth-century, Oppression, Philosophy, Political, Political Movements, Power, Psychology, relationships, Roles, Seduction, self-deception, Sex Appeal, Sexuality, slave, Social Conventions, Sociobiology, Spirituality, status, status of women, Suffering, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Time, twentieth century, twenty-first century, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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